Theological Education - Commissions IATDC

Six Propositions for Anglicans

Introduction

When the Commission began its work we posed four questions to Anglicans world-wide. A summary of the answers received can be found in 'The Communion Study, 2002' and our discussion has continued in response to what has been said. A summary of the conversation so far - in deliberately non-technical language - has been expressed like this:

  • Communion is God's gift - and it is good for you. Human beings are not meant to exist on their own. It is in fellowship with God and neighbour that we find lasting fulfilment and real life.
  • This 'communion' is offered to everyone in the Gospel, to be received by faith, sealed in baptism, and sustained by faithful participation in the family of God's thankful people.
  • It is not easy to love your neighbour. In our world it is difficult enough to even meet one. And at times disputes and controversies can threaten to disrupt even the most Christian communities.
  • What enables Christian people to walk together in the footsteps of Jesus is their common Faith, which is intimately linked with their shared calling to a corporate life of holiness.
  • You cannot often specify in advance what distortions of belief or behaviour could disable the Christian fellowship, but listening to God's Word together, entering in to the story and actions of His salvation, and keeping in touch with other parts of the family, helps sensitise it to things which could be really damaging.
  • Anglicans share a 'family likeness' with other families around the world. They do not look much like each other, but when they do happen to get together they realise how much they have in common.
  • They all face different problems - although even the same problem can look different when it is viewed from another angle. Some communities are especially worried about personal issues, like homosexuality or whether gender determines who is competent to lead the churches. Most are more concerned about how their fellow Christians and fellow citizens possibly survive under the threat of prejudice, poverty, violence or the enormity of human suffering.
  • Each church has to face its own problems, but in a communion there must always be ways for them to help each other with their tasks. After all, communion is God's gift - and no one church has ever unearthed the full extent of all his promises!
  • What many people are wondering at the moment is whether there might be some better ways for Anglican churches to support each other as they discover the significance of their life together. It is not just a matter of money (although that can certainly make a difference). The biggest help we can offer each other is the chance see ourselves in a new way. We can learn from each other about good things that God offers his people. We have insights, ideas, convictions to share that can help us on the way, and clarify our sense of common purpose in God's service together. (Philip Thomas, England)

To continue the study process the Commission would like to test SIX PROPOSITIONS, arising from these discussions, which follow. We want to encourage churches, theologians, and individual Anglicans to share something of their own experience, and tell us as frankly as possible how they see the theological issues confronting the Anglican Communion today.

+ Stephen Sykes (Chairman)

Responses

Below you will find:

  • Six propositions which summarise essential issues from the Commission's discussions so far;
  • A passage of Scripture related to each issue;
  • A comment on the six propositions from individual members of the Commission; and
  • A series of questions to which we would especially like your reaction.

We are seeking to do our work, not in splendid academic isolation but as an act of positive collaboration with the whole Communion. That is at least one aspect of what is meant by koinonia, communion!

What we would value is your comments on this material. We will appreciate however much you care to offer to our deliberations. Reaction to the whole approach will be welcomed; responses to each statement would be excellent; but comment on particular issues will be valued too.

From the questions we will particularly value insight into the concrete, everyday experience of your church - Province, diocese, congregation - in celebrating and sustaining the gift of communion.

Proposition 1:

The koinonia of the Anglican Communion is both greatly enriched, and at times challenged and confused, by the variety of ways of encountering scripture. We bring our whole lives, in our different cultural and personal contexts, to scripture, and from those places open ourselves to 'being read by' scripture.

A passage for reflection: Luke 24:13-35

As particular members of the Anglican Communion, we bring our contextual, cultural, and personal situations to bear upon the task of 'reading in communion' with others across space and time. Private reading and study of scripture takes place, by implication, within the larger framework of the church's praise of God and proclamation of the Word in common prayer and eucharist.

The Anglican tradition of reading the Bible carries an historic deep respect for biblical scholarship, taking seriously the integrity of the canon, historical contextuality and original languages of the Bible. 'Historical' studies are well complemented by 'theological' interpretations and 'literary' readings. In addition, theologians in many parts of the world have called attention to issues of power and privilege in biblical interpretation and the need for Christians to listen to one another across cultural differences and economic divisions.

The rich variety of material within the canon resists all human attempts to reduce it a flat or uniform agenda. At the same time, the biblical writings are consistent witnesses to the trustworthiness of the triune God and, for all their differences of style, content, and opinion, they are clearly part of one conversation that intends to be open to hear the Word of that one God. A Ghanian parable of individuals and community within the village helps us here: from a distance one sees the people of the village like a forest; only in closer proximity does one see the particular features of each tree. So the art of reading and living under a scripture which is both unified and diverse is an organic part of the vocation to live together within our single, yet richly variegated, Communion. It is within this context that our ongoing and vital debates about the 'authority' of scripture must take place.

A Katherine Grieb (USA)
Esther M Mombo (Kenya)
N Thomas Wright (England)

How does the Bible function as a source of authority in setting priorities and resolving disputes in your church?

Proposition 2:

Dividing doctrine from ethics not only creates the possibility for serious mistakes in Christian thinking but also diminishes the coherence of the life of holiness which is the Christian vocation.

A passage for reflection: Ephesians 4:1-6

In our initial questions to the churches, we asked in what way Christian teachings about moral behaviour are integral to the maintenance of communion. The answers we received were overwhelmingly affirmative. And this indeed is our view. What we call ethical teachings are woven into the fabric of Christian doctrine. Christians are called to die to sin and to rise again with Christ into newness of life (Romans 6.4). The doctrines of the resurrection and of baptism contain a teaching about personal transformation. Indeed the very idea of communion is inseparable from holiness of life, a sharing in the very being of God (II Peter 1.4). It belongs to the integrity of the Church that it teaches the truth that is in Christ Jesus, which is a new way of life (Mark 10.21). That life is no easy option. It involves personal struggle against temptation and a commitment to freedom from oppression. It is taken up truly as a taking-up of the cross (Ephesians 4.20-24). It is simply a mistake to think that 'core doctrine' does not include such teaching (as apparently the Righter Judgement of 1994 does).

+ Stephen Sykes (England)

Where do you see Christian doctrine informing or challenging ethical questions arising in your own situation?

Proposition 3:

The reality of the incarnation implies that the Gospel is always proclaimed in specific cultures. Inculturation always runs the risk of syncretism, in all cultures without exception. One of the gifts which comes from membership of the Anglican Communion is that other Provinces hold up a mirror to each of us, enabling us to question whether the gospel has bee compromised among us.

A passage for reflection: Acts 17:16-34

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ is God's Self-revelation to the world. Jesus' ministry on earth included both the acceptance of a particular culture and a moral confrontation with elements in that culture. When Jesus in turn commissioned his disciples, they too were to pursue the mission, which the Holy Spirit would give them by relating to their society incarnationally.

The theological concept of inculturation denotes the process whereby the church becomes incarnated in a particular culture of a people.

Inculturation occur when dialogue is sought at the level of trust between Christian message and praxis vis-à-vis local beliefs and values. Thus, as Christianity carries the structures and theology of the church into the conversation, so the same must grow out of local symbols, and, in so doing maintain the cultural and spiritual integrity of the local people. Inculturation, well understood, is openness to a process whereby the Christian gospel is interpreted and reinterpreted in an ongoing process of faithful reciprocity among peoples in the different contexts and cultures of the global church.

However, inculturation is not limited to religious cultural beliefs and practices. In its broadest sense, it includes all endeavours aimed at making the Christian message relevant to the local context. It is also an interaction and integration of the Christian message and socio-political and economic reality. True inculturation entails a willingness to incorporate what is positive, and to challenge what is alien to the truth of the Christian faith. It has to make contact with the psychological as well as the intellectual feelings of the people. This is achieved through openness to innovation and experimentation, an encouragement of local creativity, and a readiness to reflect critically at each stage of the process - a process that, in principle is never ending.

Victor Atta-Bafoe (Ghana)
Luke Pato (South Africa)

What are the issues in your own cultural situation which need to be reconsidered in the light of the gospel?

Proposition 4:

Since the beginning of Christianity disputes have arisen in which the truth of the Gospel is seen to be at stake. Not all disputes are of such significance, but some are. In a Communion made up of many different churches, discernment is required to identify what in any particular context are the crucial issues for the life of the Church.

A passage for reflection: Acts 15:1-35

The Scriptures themselves bear witness to varieties of understanding within the people of God. This diversity of interpretation has sometimes given rise to lively disputes: for instance, in the Hebrew Scriptures, about the obligations of the covenant, both for God and for Israel, or in the New Testament about the demand that Gentile converts to faith in Christ should be circumcised in accord with the Law. In some such conflicts, fidelity to the covenant, or to the Gospel, was seen to be at stake. In others, legitimate diversity of interpretation is reflected in the diversity of Scriptural witness: for instance, in the Hebrew Scriptures there are two versions, with differing emphases, of the pre-Exilic history of Israel, and in the New Testament there are four Gospels, which give four distinctive perspectives on Jesus and the Gospel. We can therefore expect diversity of practice and of theological interpretation to continue within a communion of churches, especially when the individual churches are reading the Scriptures and practising the Christian faith in hugely different contexts and circumstances. Even within the New Testament, it is clear that some Christians thought others were not being faithful to the Gospel and, on the issue of circumcision, a council was held at Jerusalem to resolve the issue. From the beginning, conciliar processes and conciliar decision-making have enabled the Church to identify those issues on which unity must be maintained and to reaffirm its faith in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, often in innovative ways. Within the conciliar process, an openness to the fresh reading of Scripture and of Christian tradition, together with a willingness to listen to one another and so to what the Spirit may now be saying to the churches, has been vital to the faithful proclamation of the Gospel in changing circumstances.

+Paul Richardson (Papua New Guinea and England)
Nicholas Sagovsky (England)

In what ways can church councils, synods, bishops and theologians be seen to maintain a balance between faithfulness to common belief and effective engagement with changing local circumstances?

Proposition 5:

Disputes in the Church may be on many issues. Issues of discipline, such as Church teaching on sexuality or the recognition of ministerial orders may be important in some contexts: specific issues of poverty, justice and peace in others. Attention to the concerns of other churches within the Communion is important for putting those of each local church into a proper perspective.

A passage for reflection: 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11

We recognise the importance of addressing together the issue of human sexuality, and of homosexual practice in particular. It has become for many a church-dividing issue. For others the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate still lingers as a crisis of faith. For still others, the persistence of white supremacy stifles the spirit of Communion.

We also weigh the importance of the world-wide distribution of wealth, issues of justice in varying contexts, and the goals of peace and the cessation of violence. Often the developed world puts its own hot-button issues in the forefront and misses other equally important issues, such as global warming. Our Communion serves us when it puts all the issues on the table, omitting none.

Paul Zahl (USA)
Kortright Davis (West Indies)

How far can membership of a Communion of churches help a local church to discern what are the crucial issues in its own situation?

Proposition 6:

At every level, the practice of koinonia requires that there are those who have the responsibility to arbitrate in disputes and conflicts vital to our shared life. Such arbitration gains its force from the ties that bind us together in a voluntary communion. The church then, needs to develop structures for testing, reconciliation and restraint.

A passage for reflection: Matthew 18:15-17

We should not be surprised when conflicts and disputes occur in the church. Such things arise for many reasons, for example, failure of communication, misunderstandings, jealousy etc. Conflict also occurs because of the sheer richness of the gospel of Christ and the difficulty of deciding amidst a number of possibilities what is the faithful way forward in a particular situation. In a voluntary society like the church we rely heavily on the ties that bind us together as the body of Christ as a way if resolving our differences and disputes. The church places a high premium on face-to-face relations as the natural means through which it tries to discern what is right, test disputed practices and exercise discipline. Conflict resolution and the kinds of sanctions exercised in the church are thus primarily persuasive compared with those of a coercive and judicial kind. However, this does not mean that arbitration can be avoided in disputed areas at a level appropriate to the strength and extent of the disputed. Indeed, the church would be failing in its duty if it did not work hard at all levels of its life - parish, diocese, province, region and beyond - to deal with disputed matters, striving for reconciliation and implementing appropriate sanctions when necessary. The church needs those who will exercise a ministry by which disputes are resolved and structures which allow such arbitration to take place. These structures will be both formal and informal and involve face-to-face relations as befits the community of Jesus Christ.

Stephen Pickard (Australia)
+ Matthew Owadayo (Nigeria)
Bruce Kaye (Australia)

How are disputes addressed and conflicts resolved in the practice of your church?